July 18, 2011
An international team led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the non-profit Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of Port St. Lucie, Florida., has received a major grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a strategy to eradicate HIV from the body.
"Even though existing anti-HIV drugs have dramatically changed the course of HIV disease for many patients, particularly in Western/developed countries, the drugs are expensive and require daily dosing for life, they are not available to everyone who needs them, they have side effects, and they do not fully restore health," said Steven Deeks, MD, one of the three principal investigators and a professor of medicine at the UCSF Division of HIV/AIDS at San Francisco General Hospital. "Our hope is to have a single, or more likely, a combination regimen that truly cures the disease that we could eventually deliver to people infected with HIV throughout the world."
The award will total over $4 million a year for five years, and consists of seven projects and three core programs. The research project has three broadly defined objectives.
"In order to develop a cure that would eradicate HIV/AIDS, we need to be able to first determine and understand all of the places [reservoirs] and types of cells in the body where the HIV virus can hide or lie dormant, allowing it to persist in patients even after years of successful suppressive therapy. Then we can test treatments that target and eliminate these viral reservoirs without activating the rest of the immune system," said study co-principal investigator Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, PhD, co-director and chief scientific officer of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH, is the primary funding organization and announced this award as one of its Martin Delaney Collaborative grants that seek to advance progress towards a cure through public-private partnerships between government, industry, and academia.
Commenting that his friend Marty Delaney, who died of liver cancer in 2009, was a hero, co-principal investigator, Joseph McCune, MD, PhD, chief of the UCSF Division of Experimental Medicine, said, "Starting in the darkest days of the epidemic, when he founded Project Inform, and throughout the next 25 years, he was one of the most influential and thoughtful leaders in the struggle against HIV, helping researchers to work together and spearheading efforts to get better therapies to patients. Unlocking the secret of how to cure HIV would be a fitting tribute to his legacy."